George Hearst was the first great mining magnate of the American West. Born in Missouri in 1820, there was no public education available. He had an interest in mining from an early age and read books on the subject supplied by his family doctor.
In addition, he observed copper mining and lead mining, which were prevalent in his area. In fact, he showed such interest that the local Indians referred to him as “Boy the earth talks to”!
George’s father died while George was still young, so he assumed responsibility for caring for the family at an early age, running the family general store. Mining still fascinated him, and when news came of a major gold strike in California, he left with a party of 16 people to join the Sutter’s Mill gold strike. Arriving about a year after the first discovery, he spent a tough year panning in the area.
Moving to the Grass Valley area in California, he began doing some quartz mining. It is rare for gold deposits to appear in quartz formations, but when they do, it can be quite profitable. George had more luck with the quartz mining. Over the next 9 years, he operated a general store and bought some land in addition to mining.
George formed a mining partnership, and when the great silver strike happened in 1859 and the early 1860s, George struck it rich at the Comstock Lode in Nevada as one of the owners of the Ophir Mine, which produced over 70,000 tons of silver!
Later, George was also owner of the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota, adding to his mining fortune. Besides the mining, he also became a large landowner in California. His Piedra Blanca Ranch alone covered about 83,000 acres!
George returned to Missouri for a time to care for his ailing mother, and he married an 18-year-old neighbor of his Missouri family when he was 42. The two moved to California, becoming the parents of William Randolph Hearst, who amassed another fortune, this time in publishing.
George served as a California senator for several years before passing away in Washington, DC, in 1891 at the age of 70. He was still serving as a senator at the time. He was buried in Colma, California.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. He is truly a giant of the West!